There are some songs that, when I hear them, take me back to the first time I heard them. All of them except one are from the 60s and the other is from the 50s. In fact when I look through my (growing) list of favourite songs, about 70 or 80 at the moment, some are from the 50s but the majority are from the 60s, quite a few are from the 70s and early 80s, and very few after that. That could mean:
the songs were better then and they’ve been going downhill ever since
I’m getting older and my palate is becoming more jaded
I’m getting older and don’t listen to as much music as I used to
I’m getting older and my hearing is gradually getting worse
All of the above
I could have chosen 20, or 50, but I thought that 10 was a reasonable number to start with. Anyway, here they are. I’ve added the intro for each song so you can have a listen and see what you think. They may not all be great songs (some of them are), but they all bring back memories.
Let me know if you agree, disagree or have any other thoughts on the songs I’ve chosen and my reasons for choosing them.
1. God Only Knows by The Beach Boys (1966)
I don’t know what to say about this song – Two minutes fifty-five seconds of perfection?The greatest pop song ever written? Whatever you say, I can remember hearing this, probably on Radio Caroline, in the summer of 1966, walking round in the sun on Morecambe fairground behind the Winter Gardens, seventeen years old and touched by bliss. It still touches me deeply when I hear it but, of course, never in the way it did then.
I had thought this album was released earlier than 1969 as it was around this time that I first encountered cannabis. Ah well.
There used to be a hall on China Street in Lancaster. I think it was called Priory Hall but I’m not sure. if I ask Steve, he’ll know. Anyway, it was there that we (Steve and I) went to watch Liverpool Scene. They were a group of poets with musical accompaniment. The best known member was Adrian Henri, a poet from Liverpool who had already become fairly well known from two poetry books, ‘The Mersey Sound’ (1967)and ‘It’s World that Makes the Love Go Round, (1968)I don’t know who did the cover for this book, but it certainly fits the times.
So we went to the concert. It was good. Before Liverpool Scene we had what seemed like several hours of Jeff Nuttall reading from his book ‘Bomb Culture’. Then came Liverpool Scene.
This is the song I want played at my funeral. It is, to me, the most sublime, spiritual pop song ever recorded and, whenever I hear it, it takes me back to ‘that time’ – you know, the time when you are seventeen and everything is intense and overwhelming and, sometimes, almost unbearable.
A bit of serendipity. I was listening to my favourite podcast a couple of days ago, Kermode and Mayo’s film reviews on the BBC and they (or rather Mark Kermode) was talking about the new Brian Wilson biopic, Love and Mercy. One of the things he talked about was God Only Knows and how, after he had finished recording it, Brian took it to play to his dad, Murray Wilson who, on hearing it, said, according to Mark Kermode, that it sounded less like a love song and more like a suicide song – this is the man who thought he knew better than Brian how to arrange and record music!
So, the first time I can remember hearing this was in the Summer of 1966 on Morecambe fairground. Morecambe had two fairgrounds then, one on the prom, which eventually became Frontierland, and the other behind the Winter Gardens theatre, an area which is now mainly an open market and a carpark. Continue reading →
I had always thought that when we went to see the Mothers of Invention (that’s Steve and I) in Manchester in 1969 it was at the Free Trade Hall. I’ve just discovered, through the delights of google, that they actually played at the Palace Theatre in 1969 and didn’t play the Free Trade Hall until 1970. I know it was 1969 because of the lineup – Frank Zappa, Jimmy Carl Black, Don Preston, Roy Estrada, Euclid James Motorhead Sherwood, “Bunk” and “Buzz” Gardner, Ian Underwood and Art Tripp.
It was my first ‘big’ concert (I was 20, a slow starter) and Steve smuggled a tape recorder in and recorded the concert – it’s okay, statute of limitations and all that; anyway the tape, sadly, is long lost. They were on tour to publicise Uncle Meat, which had come out earlier that year.
I had been a fan since buying their first album, Freak Out, in Morecambe in 1967. I’d never heard of them – who had in Morecambe in 1967 – but the title, the band name and the sleeve shouted New! Strange! Different! – all magnets to me at 18 when any music that was unlike any I had heard before was, by default, worth a listen (just as an aside I remember my sister Jackie, who had moved to London, telling me about a record she had by the Stan Kenton Orchestra that was ‘really weird’ and promising to bring it up to Heysham for me. She eventually did bring it and it was weird and I didn’t like it). Continue reading →
In the Nineteen Sixties Morecambe had two piers, West End Pier and Central Pier; now there are none. Central Pier was one of the two venues in Morecambe where young people went dancing – the other was the Floral Hall (The Beatles played here twice, in 1962 and 1963; sadly I didn’t know about it and anyway I was only 13 so probably wouldn’t have been able to go). The West End Pier was wrecked by storms in 1977 and Central Pier suffered several fires in the 1980s and was finally demolished in 1992 after a further fire destroyed the ballroom a year earlier.
So, to the music. I have a vague memory of going the Central Pier ballroom when I was about 16 to see The Undertakers, a sixties Liverpool band. I can’t remember much about it (this is a constant refrain, probably due to an excess of alcohol consumed over the years – but not for over 30 years and something I intend to blog about at some point), but I do know that I was very nervous being there, surrounded by older boys and men who were probably planning to beat me up. Just as an aside, I spend much of my adolescence and early adulthood afraid of violence; I had been bullied as a kid and tended to roll over and show my belly when threatened. There, mini-confession over and again, back to the music. Continue reading →
*DISCLAIMER – all of the following is based on my admittedly faulty memory. To repeat the saying, ‘If you remember the sixties, you weren’t there!’
In the late sixties Steve had gone from group manager (The Mind Machine, which I will write about at some point), to light show creator. He has always been a creative whirlwind and if this was a superhero comic he would be the mad professor and I would be the trusty sidekick. Light shows seem to have come into being independently both in Britain and the United States. Pink Floyd were, as far as I know, the first British band to use a light show and, in America, bands such as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane were employing lights at the Fillmore and Avalon ballrooms in San Francisco (somebody correct me if I’m wrong).
Anyway, Steve had started playing around with various lighting effects in The Cellar, using an old slide projector. He had added a motorised drive so that when a circular slide was placed in front of the light source the motored rotated it causing the effect to change. The main ones I remember were:
circular slides filled with coloured oils – as the slide rotated the blobs of oil moved around causing a constantly changing pattern of coloured blobs
Sheets of diffraction grating
two circular pieces of polarised glass with strips of sellotape between them
In 1964 I was fifteen and had been playing guitar, or rather trying to play guitar, for about a year. I had an old arch top acoustic guitar (I think it was a Hofner but I’m not sure) which my parents had bought for about £15 from our next door neighbours and had recently persuaded my mum and dad to buy me my first electric guitar. It was called a Caravelle Top Twenty and had, I think, three pickups and was a similar shape to a strat. It was very light and cheaply made but it was an Electric Guitar!!!, the first one I had ever owned and, as far as I can remember, the first one I had ever touched. I loved it, even though I had nothing to plug it into. It was either light blue or a sort of purple colour (I’m not sure on the colour as I am colour blind), but it had six strings and a tremolo arm and looked a bit like the guitars the bands I was watching on TV were playing. Oh, and the action wasn’t too good, probably nearly half an inch at the twelfth fret but as the only guitars I had played had been as bad and my playing was fairly rudimentary this didn’t bother me too much. (I’ve just checked with Steve and it was actually pink). The shop where we got it was at Strawberry Gardens, a little music shop where I also bought my records. I’ve just realised that one of the records I bought there was ‘You Don’t Have to be a Baby to Cry’ by The Caravelles, http://www.45-rpm.org.uk/dirc/caravelles.htm a female duo from London (which was probably not played on a Caravelle Top Twenty). It wasn’t the sort of record I was really into but when I had my six shillings and eight pence in my hand (the price of a single then), I had to go home with something, and I thought my mum might like it. I think she did but I don’t remember her ever putting a record on to listen to; she probably only heard it once when I got home and played it to her. In fact I don’t remember anyone in my family ever listening to music. We were a television family; in the evening we would gather in the front room and watch TV, although there wasn’t much choice in 1964 as there were only two television channels, the BBC and ITV and, now I was fifteen, I had started to spend more time either out with my friends or in my room listening to records and trying to work out how to play them on guitar. Continue reading →
Down into the Magic Kingdom (I’ve dropped the ‘Dive one’ and ‘Dive two’ stuff because I think it’s a bit naff)
I have to confess right at the start that I’ve never heard this album; I’ve seen the sleeve many times but never had anything to do with the record inside it. Not that there was a record inside it in Steve’s cellar, it was just one of the album sleeves decorating the walls. But this was The Cellar, full of electronic gadgets and tape recorders, microphones and dalek voice machines (or at least that’s how I remember it).
As I said in a previous post, Steve and I reconnected at the Co-op where, in between serving customers (and in Steve’s case adding up their bill wrong so that they either got their order very cheaply or paid too much), we spent our time:
reading Mad Magazine – especially anything illustrated by Don Martin
talking about music – we were both big Beatles fans and had just started to discover bands such as The Velvet Underground, The Mothers of Invention, Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band and The Incredible String Band (so, middle of the road stuff then)
trying to think of ways to embarrass the temporary manager, Edwin, by sending notes supposedly written by him to the girl in the Post Office who we knew he fancied, asking her to meet him at a certain place and time. I don’t think he appreciated this! As far as I remember we did get into some trouble from the people at the Post Office, but I can’t remember what the outcome was but I do know that the meeting between them never happened. Wonder why.
thinking of ways to torture the delivery boy who lived across the road in a gatehouse to Heysham Head with an archway (see photo)
While working at the Co-op Steve mentioned that he was into electronics and recording and that he’d been recording a songwriter called Dave Wynne (see previous post). I was very excited about this and Steve said I could visit his cellar and see what he was up to.
Well, over the next few years Steve’s cellar became my second home – actually more like first home as I think I spent more time there than I did at my mum and dad’s. You know how places have their own particular feel and smell; well the cellar, or ‘The Cellar’ as I think of it now, had the damp, cellary smell of creativity and invention. I loved it! I think if Steve’s mum and dad had said that I could put a bed in there and live in it I would have jumped at the chance. Continue reading →
Dive Four – ‘You haven’t got a little bit of butter to go with that?’
In 1966/7 I was working for the Co-op and I was sent to work in the Co-op grocery shop in Heysham Village for a couple of weeks while the manager was on holiday (that’s the co-op on the right with the blind). Steve, someone I’d know at primary school, was working there and we soon found that we had a lot in common (Mad magazine, music, torturing the delivery boy). But I mainly remembered him from the bus to school – he went to Balmoral Road, I went to Morecambe Grammar but we caught the same bus – where he had gained a bit of a reputation as a mad professor, inventing electric shock machines and devices to make dalek voices. He was also known as an expert bogey builder (bogeys are what we called carts made using old pram wheels with a rope for steering). Anyway, he invited me down to his cellar (all mad professors have to have a cellar, it’s one of the rules). This is where he played around with electronics and recording equipment and, as I was a fairly mediocre guitarist with aspirations and an occasional songwriter, the idea of being able to record my music was an exciting idea. He played me some of the things he’d been recording with someone called Dave Wynne.
What was exciting was that he was doing multitrack recording, this at a time when most albums were being recorded on just four tracks. As far as I remember he did it by having two tape recorders – recording a track onto one machine then playing this back and recording it onto the other machine while, at the same time, adding another live track. I’m sure he’ll correct me if this is wrong. The problem with writing about something that happened so long ago is that memories fade and get distorted (a bit like old tapes) and when, like me, you only have about seven brain cells left for one reason or another, they end up more faded and distorted than ever. Continue reading →
In 1969 I was working for Storey’s of Lancaster, a firm which manufactured wall coverings (anyone remember Contact and Decorene?). I had started working in the bonus office with the intention being that I would study to become a Work Study Engineer; these are the people who stand around with stopwatches measuring how long it takes you to complete a particular job so that they can tell you how to do it more efficiently. Anyway, I didn’t do the training; it involved going off to Nottingham University for a week and, as I had never been away from home on my own for that length of time and I was of a rather nervous and shy disposition, I told my boss I didn’t want to go. So I ended up staying on as a bonus clerk, working out the weekly bonuses for the people who worked in the factory.
It was just before Christmas 1969 and we’d had a Christmas party at work where I managed to get fairly drunk. The rest of the group were going into Lancaster to carry on drinking so I cadged a lift with them and wandered off into town looking for something to buy with my Christmas bonus. I’m not sure how much it was but it probably came to about £10 or so. At this time I had three great loves in my life – girls, books and music – so I headed for the local record shop. I can’t remember the name of it but it was upstairs somewhere around where WH Smiths is now and you could listen to records in booths before buying them. Well, one thing I’ve always liked is something different and when I came across a copy of Trout Mask Replica I had to hear it! Who could resist?? Remember I was fairly drunk and looking to spend my money so I took it to the counter and asked to listen. I probably got some strange looks from the person behind the counter but, as I had had a few drinks, I didn’t notice, just straight into the booth and waited for them to put the record on. One thing I don’t like about CDs is that you don’t get that sense of excitement when the stylus hits the record and there’s a few seconds of slightly crackly silence before the music starts. Well the music started (Frownland) and I didn’t know if I loved it or hated it. I wanted to love it, it was Beefheart and the cover was the strangest thing I had ever seen. I probably listened for about 10 minutes and decided that, though I didn’t love it then, after I’d played it a few times it would all make sense. Continue reading →